A recent study, led by Penn State and Pennsylvania Game Commission researchers, has determined that ruffed grouse harbors more genetic diversity and connectivity than expected. The findings suggest that the species, which has had declining population for decades, might be maintained in persistent numbers if appropriate protections are implemented. The population decline has been due largely to disease and habitat loss, and often when these arw the causes of population decline inbreeding can occur, which can lead to a decline in genetic diversity over time. However, the current state of the genetics of ruffed grouse suggests that protection could help maintain, or even grow, the population in some area. The researchers also found two genetic "anomalies," called chromosomal inversions where a segment of DNA broke off and then reattached in the reverse order, but they do not know the implications of this inversion yet. DNA analysis of individuals against each other and the whole population suggests population subdivision across the state of Pennsylvania is not as much of an issue as people thought. However, reduced genetic connectivity in the south was identified, which is likely due to fragmentation of the grouse's habitat by human development. This research hoped to influence conservation efforts for the roughed grouse to make informed decisions on creating and maintaining habitats that connect populations via forested regions, evaluating the impact of hunting to ensure harvest is not contributing to the decline of more vulnerable populations of roughed grouse, and implementing periodic genetic monitoring to track changes and assess whether habitat interventions lead to positive genetic changes.
I found this article particularly interesting because in an article I posted on October 3rd, the day before this research was published, I discussed how genetics were being used to determine which species were endangered by comparing genetics to identify similarities in individuals genomes, and thereby identifying consanguineous breeding in species. I suggested that this genetic technology could be used to aid in conservation efforts and this research compounds my confidence in the use of genetics in wildlife conservation.